Mamo

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Mamo (Skt. mātṛ or mātṛkā; Tib. མ་མོ་, Wyl. ma mo) — wrathful feminine deities forming part of Ekadzati’s entourage. The mamos are considered to be among the main natural forces which may respond to human misconduct and environmental misuse by creating obstacles and disease. Patrul Rinpoche categorizes wordly mamos in the preta class of sentient beings. There are:

  • mamos of wisdom,
  • mamos with special karma and
  • worldly mamos.

History

The Tibetan word mamo is a non-literal translation of the Sanskrit word ‘matri’ (Skt. mātṛ). In India matris, literally ‘mother’, is, as the name suggest, a female spirit-deity. Sharing a close link with the yakshas (Skt. yakṣas), yakshis (Skt. yakṣīs) and yakshinis (Skt. yakṣinīs), matris are indigenous spirit-deities of the natural world.[1] Matris comprise a variety of female spirits appearing in different forms, shapes, colours and attributes, including, benevolent, malevolent and undetermined female spirits. Thus they can be potentially dangerous to humans and other beings. The matris are intimately associated with fertility and sickness, life and death. The main medium of communication, invocation, appeasement or protection against them is the mantra.

The matris appear most prominently in the famous epic, the Mahabharata (Skt. Mahābhārata), where the matris together with the grahas are sent by Shiva to kill the god Skanda. Skanda, however, appeases them and thus, instead of destroying him, the matris and grahas become his servants. The matri entered the world of the brahmanical pantheon and joined the major gods,[2] not as wives but as counterparts. In this setting they become known as the ‘seven mothers’ (Skt. saptamātṛ).[3]

With the rise of the tantras, “leaving behind their identities, the retinue of Skanda, or as maternal, Brahmanical goddesses,”[4] the matris become transformed into yoginis and dakinis. Although the scriptures differ widely as to the appearance and features of the yoginis and dakinis, their most common characteristics are appearance in groups, organization into clans (Skt. kula, gotra), the ability to shape-shift and fly, guarding and/or transmitting tantric teachings, and being a sources of both grave danger and immense power.[5] In the buddhist tantras yoginis and dakinis can be both unenlightened wild and ferocious worldly spirits as well as enlightened deities that are a source of realization and protection. Again, the medium with which one would interact or counteract the yoginis and dakinis is the mantra.[6]

Wordly Mamos

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition mamo can be referring to a specific kind of powerful and ferocious worldly dakinis, which is considered as one of the most fearsome and malicious spirits. As such mamos are counted in the eight classes of gods and demons, and “when incited they can arouse all eight kinds to follow them in attack. The mamo is known for causing havoc with a roll of her magical dice, creating pestilence and warfare.”[7] Mamos are said to inhabit the charnel grounds, appear with a variety of leaders, and are illustrated as ugly demonesses, “black with emaciated breasts and matted hair… armed with sacks full of diseases, magic notched sticks, black snares, and magic balls of thread.”[8] Although being primarily evil worldly spirits, there can however be enlightened ones among them, such as Ekadzati (i.e. a mamo of wisdom).

The mamos become “enraged when people lose touch with their own intelligence, and therefore with reality. They are associated with the karmic consequences of degraded personal or societal actions. Their enraged response might be in proportion to the karma accumulated, but it could also be unpredictable and completely out of proportion. Similarly, we know that there have been many cases where small provocations have produced great wars. Once enraged, mamos tend to cause large-scale problems: fighting and civil discord, famines, plagues, and environmental calamities. In the mamo chant, it says that they incite cosmic warfare.”[9]

The mamos and other malevolent spirits were tamed or at least partially tamed by Guru Rinpoche. In many cases Guru Rinpoche subdued the leader of a certain kind of spirit. The spirit leader thus enacts his rule over the other subordinate spirits and thus they are controlled and prevented from harming others. Thus, Guru Rinpoche established dominion over the spirit world.

Notes

  1. Shaman Hatley, “From Mātṛ to Yoginī: Continuity and Transformation in the South Asian Cults of the Mother Goddesses,” in Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond, edited by István Keul, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012).
  2. These are: Brahmā, Śiva, Skanda, Viṣṇu, Varāha (or Yama), and Indra.
  3. These are: Brāhmī, Māheśvarī, Kaumārī, Vaiṣṇavī, Vārāhī (or Yāmī), and Aindrī.
  4. Shaman Hatley, “From Mātṛ to Yoginī: Continuity and Transformation in the South Asian Cults of the Mother Goddesses,” in Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond, edited by István Keul, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012).
  5. In addition, yoginis often blur the boundaries between human and divine, for through perfection in tantric ritual, it was held that female practitioners could join the ranks of these sky-traveling (Skt. khecarī) goddesses.
  6. Shaman Hatley, “From Mātṛ to Yoginī: Continuity and Transformation in the South Asian Cults of the Mother Goddesses,” in Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond, edited by István Keul, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012).
  7. Ibid., 57.
  8. Ibid., 57.
  9. Russell Rodgers, “Understanding Dön Season,” on Shambala Times.

Further Reading

  • Hatley Shaman. From Mātṛ to Yoginī: Continuity and Transformation in the South Asian Cults of the Mother Goddesses.” In Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond. Edited by István Keul. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012: 99-129.
  • Mann, Richard D. “The Early Cult of Skanda in North India: From Demon to Divine Son.” Ph.D. dissertation, McMaster University, 2003.
  • Rodgers, Russell. “Understanding Dön Season.” On Shambala Times.
  • Simmer-Brown, Judith. Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.
  • White, David. Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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